In the late 16th century, in Siam, there lived a Buddhist monk called Luang Pu Thuat. According to legend, when this monk was a baby, a giant snake coiled itself around the hammock in which he was sleeping. Baby “Pu’s” mother was worried at first, but then suspected the snake was an angelic deity come to bless her child, so she brought the snake some puffed rice, flowers, and incense. Sure enough, before the snake slithered away, it disgorged a glowing crystal onto Baby Pu’s chest. The baby grew up to perform miracles: When a boat he was sailing to Ayuthaya, former capital of Thailand, got caught in a storm, Pu calmed the saltwater sea and turned it into fresh drinking water for the panicked crew. This earned him a nickname, “Pu Thuat Yiab Nam Tale Jerd” (“Pu Thuat stepping over the seawater and turning it to fresh water”). After he died, at at least age 100, Thai Buddhists began making Luang Pu Thuat statues and amulets, which, to this day, are thought to possess protective powers.
But Thailand’s latest sculpture of the revered monk has incited fear and offense among locals, Coconuts Bangkok reported. Under construction outside the Baan Pho temple in Chacheongsao, east of Bangkok, it will be the biggest of the many Luang Pu Thuat sculptures, at 55 feet tall (~16.8m). That is, if and when it’s completed: The temple is still raising funds for its construction, and expects the building process to take at least three years. So far, the sculpture is just a head: A massive, disembodied wrinkly head covered in gray stubble, looming over the temple’s parking lot. When tourist site Unseen Thailand posted a photo of the work-in-progress on Facebook, controversy broke out.
“This looks scary. There’s only a head!” wrote one commenter.
“I understand the work is not complete, but this is shocking. Why does he only have a head? People who respect Luang Pu Thuat are not comfortable seeing this. Please show some respect,” read the top comment.
“Thais only want to build the biggest, the longest, the widest things. They should have not displayed his head until they have completed the sculpture,” wrote another commenter.
The temple, Wat Baan Pho, released mock-up photos of the complete sculpture on Facebook.
Sans body, the statue has a bit of a Ron Mueck-ish quality, with its uncanny gaze and emphasis on verisimilitude over flattery of the subject. (The head has several liver spots.) But unlike Mueck’s waxy sculptures of oversized, hyperrealistic heads, the Luang Pu Thuat homage is not intentionally creepy.
h/t Coconuts Bangkok